Update on response to severe weather (updated!): Porchlight’s plans for the weekend

I received word from Preston Patterson, manager of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter that they will continue to extend hours during this coldsnap. The predicted low for Sunday, January 26 is -12.

Preston writes:

Wednesday 1/22/14

  • All bans to remain lifted until Wednesday morning 1/29
  • Van service to overflow shelters from main shelter

Thursday 1/23

  • Van service  from overflow shelters, back to main shelter
  • Main shelter will close at 9am
  • Evening van service to overflow shelters

Friday 1/24

  • Resume normal shelter operations – no van service and normal closing time

Saturday 1/25

  • Normal shelter operations – no van service and normal closing time

Sunday 1/26

  • Main shelter to remain open until 1pm
  • Van service yet to be determined

Monday 1/27

  • Van service from overflow shelters, back to main shelter
  • Main shelter will close at 9am
  • Evening van service to overflow shelters

Tuesday 1/28

  • Van service from overflow shelters, back to main shelter
  • Main shelter will close at 9am
  • Evening van service to overflow shelters

I’m happy to share this information and I’m happy that they are making decisions now about the weekend. One of the problems is getting the word out, so please share widely.

I learned how important getting this information out in a variety of ways is. On Monday, I spoke with a man who had been treated for frostbite the previous night. Banned from the shelter, he didn’t know that such bans were temporarily lifted, so he didn’t seek shelter there.

Quick update on the Porchlight fire

We’re still working to put everything in place; but it looks like things are coming together. According to last reports, four women were supposed to spend last night at St. Francis House; eight more will move in today.

For info on how to donate to help these women who lost everything in the fire, go to http://www.porchlightinc.org

Thanks again to Steve Silverberg and LZ Ventures, Jim Stopple of Madison Property Management, and St. Francis Administrator Beth Wroblewski who have been working hard to make this happen

Update on the Porchlight fire and the response from St. Francis House

Here’s today’s article from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Here’s the letter my colleague Andy Jones wrote to Madison’s Common Council yesterday.

In fact, it looks like we will be welcoming the Porchlight residents tomorrow. Porchlight, Madison Property Management, and our staff scrambled today to get the space ready and deal with security issues. The WSJ has info on how to donate money and items to those in need.

Whew! Another day in the life of a (well, two) priests

I woke up this morning looking forward to a leisure-filled day. I don’t have to prepare a sermon for tomorrow so I thought I might work on a couple of projects around the house, do some reading, and maybe watch some football or a movie.

Then I read about the fire at Porchlight’s facility on Brooks St. last night. I thought about calling Steve Schooler to see if there was anything I could do, but I figured he would be inundated with phone calls of all sorts and having to deal with the crisis. I thought of the woman who I had just written a check for downpayment for an apartment in one of Porchlight’s facilities, and wondered if she was affected. I thought about St. Francis House, the immediate neighbor to the north of the Brooks St. building and whether we could do anything. Then my attention turned elsewhere.

Around 11:00, I got a call from my colleague, Andy Jones. He had just received a call from Steve Silverberg of LZ Ventures who were scheduled to take over St. Francis House for the redevelopment project that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. They volunteered to delay the handover so that Porchlight could use St. Francis House to house residents displaced by the fire. Bishop Miller approved the offer, and the board was polled via email.

Meanwhile, I was deputized to contact Porchlight because of my working relationship with them. I phoned Steve Schooler and drove over to St. Francis to show them the building. We discussed logistics and what not. They have found space for six of the residents in Porchlight facilities, but ten were still homeless. All sixteen have lost all of their possessions. We’ve been working on vacating St. Francis House for the redevelopment and the move, so much of the lower level of the building is in a mess, to put it mildly. I also made a call to the pastor of Luther Memorial Church, another neighbor of ours, to let us know what we had in mind.

I went home, began planning those projects, and drove off to Home Depot to buy some things I needed. In the parking lot, I got another call from Andy, letting me know that Madison Property Management has volunteered to help in any way with getting the space ready for occupancy, including staff to clean, and furniture.

Now that’s ministry. I don’t get those projects done today, however.

Red tape in the way of a day shelter in Madison

I’ve been blogging about the impact of the library and Capitol closures on the homeless in Madison (previous entries here, here, here, and here). We’ve been working on solutions. One of the most promising was to use a vacant car dealership, now owned by the city, as a temporary space through March. Pat Schneider reports on this development, and on the red tape the city has thrown up around it. She’s been doing a great job keeping on this story.

As Schneider observes:

Winter is bearing down, and I’ve got to wonder what sense requiring a landscaping plan makes for a property in Wisconsin that will be used November through March. Not much grows here then. Should planning for a temporary use like this really require restriping the parking lot? A public hearing makes sense, but is there a way to expedite the process to accommodate some of the city’s most vulnerable residents?


Hmm, indeed!
One piece of good news. At least Savory Sunday has been given a permit to serve lunch in the Capitol on Sunday afternoons.

Update on homelessness in Madison

Pat Schneider of the Capital Times continues to pursue this story. As I’ve mentioned before, with the imminent closure of the Central Library for renovations and continuing closure of the Capitol basement, there is great concern about where homeless people will go during the day this winter.

Schneider interviewed Steve Schooler, Executive Director of Porchlight, which runs the Drop-in Shelter housed at Grace and other downtown churches. In initial meetings with other service providers, churches, and the downtown business community, stop-gap measures were identified, but as Schneider and Schooler point out, there are large gaps in potential coverage, especially on the weekends. Schneider’s most recent article is here.  For a depressing perspective on attitudes toward homeless people, read the comments thread.

I’ve previously discussed this issue here and here.

Shelter Renovations

Today, Grace and Porchlight invited the community to a “Transformation Celebration” at the Men’s Drop-In Shelter.

Here’s an article from the Capital Times on the renovation

Following are the remarks I made at the event:

On behalf of Grace Episcopal Church, Porchlight, Epic Software Systems, the contractors, and especially all of the volunteers who have helped with the Men’s Drop-In Shelter over the years, I would like to thank you for coming. It was some twenty-five years ago that Grace first opened its doors to a shelter. That decision was for a one-year trial in response to a growing need in the city of Madison and Dane County. No one involved in making that decision then could have imagined that we would be standing here today.

Over the years, thousands of men have sought shelter here, thousands of people have volunteered with meals and in other ways. Grace has provided space; Porchlight and its predecessors have been involved in the day-to-day operations of the shelter; and the County, City, and State governments have provided funds, both for ongoing operations and for major renovations.

There are many people to thank today; and many of us will thank them. Porchlight, the people and vestry of Grace Church, the contractors and other workers, but especially Epic Software Systems. There is someone else who deserves our gratitude, however. Last February, Joe Tarr wrote an article in Isthmus entitled “Bleak House: Grace Episcopal’s Homeless Shelter.” In it, he raised concerns about conditions in the shelter. It aroused anger at Grace, at Porchlight and among the many volunteers who support the efforts here. He got an earful from me. The press is much maligned, but at its best it can rouse the slumbering consciences of a community or a nation. Joe’s article did that. Thank you.

It was a few days after the appearance of that article that I received a phone call from Bern Tan, of Epic. He said they wanted to help. I immediately assumed that they wanted to volunteer in some way. But no, Bern replied that they wanted to design and fund renovations. I was stunned. The process has been long and involved many groups of people, but we at Grace are absolutely thrilled at the results. We know the guests of the shelter are as well. Words cannot express the depth of our gratitude to Bern Tan and Todd Sloan of Epic who have overseen this project from start to finish; to Epic who made this possible and to all of you who continue to support our efforts to provide shelter to those who need it.

We at Grace responded to a need twenty-five years ago. It was controversial then. It remains controversial. But our mission is the same now as it was then, to follow the command of Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. Thank you to all who participate in these efforts.